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Exercise can help prevent and treat mental health problems, and taking it outside adds another boost to those benefits

Mental health problems affect one in five people every year. The Canadian Mental Health Association estimates that by the age of 40, about half of people will either have had a mental illness or will currently be dealing with one.

Behavioural therapy and medications are common first options for treatment. However, research has shown the importance of exercise in not only preventing mental illness, but also treating it. And when exercise is taken outdoors, the benefits can be even greater.

Mental illnesses include depression, addictions and anxiety, as well as personality disorders. Of these, anxiety and depression are the most common, with depression being the leading cause of disability worldwide. Left untreated, these diseases can result in physical illness and premature death.

My research focuses on the benefits of physical activity to prevent and manage disease, and ways to make it easier for people to be active. In December 2021, I was diagnosed with major depressive disorder, and exercise and spending time in nature were vital to my recovery.

Exercise can make you happy

Female soccer players training on the field
It also doesn’t matter what type of activity you do. Whether it’s team sports, cycling, walking, running or aerobics, all provide benefits.
(Shutterstock)

Exercise and activity have long been known to improve mood. A study of more than 1.2 million adults in the United States reported those who exercised had 1.5 fewer days in the past month of poor mental health. And the greatest benefits occurred in those people who exercised 45 minutes or more for three or more days per week.

But even shorter sessions can make a difference. As little as ten minutes of activity was enough to improve happiness. Over time, regular exercise can result in less likelihood for getting depression and anxiety. It also doesn’t matter what

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